The idea of being caught in the middle of a massive forest fire is frightening enough by itself. Everywhere you turn there is danger and destruction. In Taylor Sheridan’s new action thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, a massive wildfire is only half the problem that Angelina Jolie must face in order to survive a long and hard night.
A guilt-ridden firefighter named Hannah (Jolie) is assigned to a fire tower after an incident in which several people died during a rescue. Hannah is drinking excessively, depressed, and borderline suicidal as she accepts this new position. The local sheriff’s deputy Ethan (played by Jon Bernthal) is genuinely worried about Hannah and tries to reason with her to stop these reckless actions and move on from what happened. Ethan returns home to his pregnant wife and receives a phone call from his brother-in-law who is in grave danger. Meanwhile, a father and son are on the run from two assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen) who are determined to kill them both because of the father’s investigating of their boss’s finances. The son, Connor (played by newcomer Finn Little), is given all his father’s secrets he uncovered when the assassins finally catch up to them and quickly kill his father.
Not knowing who he can trust and being unfamiliar with his surroundings in rural Montana, Connor accidentally stumbles upon Hannah who catches up with him and brings him back to the tower where she tries to figure out what happened. As Connor decides he can trust Hannah and shares the devastating day he’s had, the assassins make their move on and create a destructive distraction by starting a forest fire to draw out Connor. Hannah and Connor try to walk out of the forest and get to town, but quickly discover that the fire is bigger than anyone realized. This forces the two to double back to the tower where they know that trouble will eventually find them.
I went into this expecting a typical action thriller/disaster movie and I was pleasantly surprised by it. The story does an excellent job of balancing emotional moments that make you feel for the characters and the intense (and sometimes weirdly fun) action sequences. I found myself cheering at a few of the action sequences which was a true testament to the writing and the casting choices. Even though this is meant to be more of a serious film, I found myself having a fun time watching these characters fight their way through the story. Visually, the mix of practical shots and the massive scope of the CGI fire is pretty solid and not overused.
The casting choices for the film were nearly perfect. Jolie easily pulled off the role of a woman with demons that she can’t seem to shake. She was also able to kick some serious butt in her numerous action sequences which shouldn’t be surprising based on her history in the genre. Her chemistry with Little was terrific and really provided a slowly growing emotional connection that seemed to help both characters cope with the horrors unfolding around them. Hoult and Gillen played pretty solid villains and were easy to hate (for any Game of Thrones fans out there, you already have some resentment for Gillen). The true standouts in the cast besides Jolie had to be Jon Bernthal and Medina Senghore (Ethan and his wife Allison). While Bernthal managed to let out his inner Shane from The Walking Dead and Frank from The Punisher, Senghore was truly badass. The middle of the film features an unbelievable and intense arc where her character proves numerous times that she is more of a force of nature than any assassin or fire.
If you’re in the market for an exciting, emotionally satisfying, and well written action film then Those Who Wish Me Dead is a great choice. With a strong cast and a well written, balanced story, you’ll find yourself delightfully surprised by how much you enjoy the film. The massive scale of the action sequences and the emotional depth of the character relationships is top notch.